The Belize Territorial Volunteers have continuously defied the pronouncements of local and foreign authorities against their visits to the southern and western border markers. Those warnings have been repeated this week ahead of the Sunday, August 16 expedition to Sarstoon Island, even as there was a confrontation with Guatemalan authorities when BTV leader Wil Maheia and Orlando de la Fuente went to scout the area. Today the Volunteers got support from the Opposition People’s United Party, who have authorized Senator Lisa Shoman, a former ambassador and Foreign Affairs Minister and official representative for the PUP on the Belize negotiating team, to attend. She has written Minister Wilfred Elrington, Guatemalan Ambassador to Belize Manuel Roldan Barrillas and officials on both sides of the border. She told us what got her motivated to join the expedition.
I became very concerned yesterday after listening to the declarations that were being made by the Ministry of National Security. It is clear to me that Sarstoon Island is a part of Belize and even if it is an area that Guatemala is claiming, the point could also be made that Guatemala is claiming half of Belize and all of the cayes. That is absolutely no reason for people not to go Sarstoon Island and I became very concerned that enough care and attention was not being taken and I decided that it was my responsibility, since I have been a part of this process to take seriously the concerns that the BTV and others have, particularly after the incident of yesterday and after some reflection/consultation with the Leader of the Opposition who I represent, I decided that I would accompany the BTV. Reached out to Mr. Wil Maheia, let him know that I was interested and received his kind invitation to accompany them.”
Shoman expects, although she noted that her position does not mean she should get special treatment, that local authorities will do their best to protect Belizeans who are, after all, going to territory they consider their own. If there are any incidents, she said, they will not be caused by Belizeans.
Hon. Lisa Shoman– Senator, PUP
“That is utter rubbish. For years there have been link ups along the adjacency zone and those are always notified prior. This is not the adjacency zone and there is absolutely no reason why the Ministry of National Security cannot inform their counterparts in Guatemala and even offered to do the kind of link up that they do along the adjacency zone. I am saying that there is absolutely no reason to supposed that because Belizeans military forces are in Belizean waters, that there will be any incident. I am sure that of the Guatemalan armed forces cross over into Belizean territorial waters, that we have enough sense and prudence to speak to them calmly and inform them what we are doing. Which is that simply Belizeans are going to a part of Belize to make a statement.”
The question, Senator Shoman says, is not whether Belizeans have sovereignty or not on Sarstoon Island – we do. It is that we have a civic right to go to any part of our territory and expect to be protected by our leaders.
Hon. Lisa Shoman– Senator, PUP
There is no doubt in my mind that Belize has complete and total sovereignty over Sarstoon Island. This move by the Belizean Territorial Volunteers is not going to cement any sovereignty because we have sovereignty. What I understand the BTV to be doing , and I don’t speak for them nor am I their spokesman, is that they want to make a strong statement as Belizeans that this Island is not under dispute and that this island is firmly a part of Belize. It is not going to change anything legally or internationally, but it is a group of Belizeans that are determined to make a statement and I support their civic right to make that statement. That is really why I am going along – to demonstrate that they have the right to make the statement and that Belizeans should be assured that their government is concerned about their safety. “
Shoman says she has also contacted the Organization of American States (OAS) and they are tentatively expected to send observers along to the event. This evening, almost on cue, the Government issued a release attacking the planned visit as a “political ploy” and noted that they consider it in the vein of her being a “private citizen” and not a Senator or representative of the bipartisan committee on the Guatemalan claim, since she has no authorization from either body. They acknowledge the letter written to the local Guatemalan ambassador but not the one written to Minister Elrington. Claiming “great consternation,” GOB says Shoman is being “irresponsible” and concludes that, quote, “her actions are totally political. Her actions further demonstrate and expose the desperation of the Opposition to use this all important and deeply emotional national issue of the Belize/Guatemala border dispute for naked political gain.” As for its own position, the release states, quote, “The Government takes this opportunity to caution and reiterate its position that has been expressed to the Belize Territorial Volunteers that it is imprudent and potentially dangerous for the organizers of this type of excursion to expose innocent Belizeans to the risk of inadvertently entering into Guatemalan territory.”